The Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation Youth Powwow brought children from all over the Americas to dance and take part in preserving traditional culture Thursday.
This was the first competitive youth powwow at Rocky Boy set up by the Cultural Support Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Youth Suicide Prevention Program.
Cultural Support Services of Rocky Boy received a three-year grant from SAMHSA to set up the program. Last year, CSS had a youth powwow, but there was no registration or competition.
"Everybody is a winner here," Laurie Sun Child, the director of the CSS, said. "But, there is a competition this year."
The categories for competitors were ages 10 to 13, 14 to 17 and 18 to 24.
The CSS' Youth Suicide Prevention Program serves the same age range, 10 to 24.
"Our whole focus is on the youth," Sun Child said.
She said she and the other organizers decided to put together the youth powwow because they believed that preserving the youths' culture will give them a better sense of identity and improve their lives.
"If you know where you come from, you know where you're going," Sun Child said.
There were incentives for the top dancers in each category that included cash and gift cards.
There were 238 registered dancers and 43 registered drummers and singers in seven to nine groups at Thursday's powwow, with probably more than 50 unregistered children participating, Sun Child said.
"This is probably the better powwow," Sun Child said, comparing Thursday's youth powwow to last year's. " ... I'm very pleased. A lot of the help we get is family and a lot of the stuff is donated."
Sun Child said she and her organization provide youth suicide awareness services in Rocky Boy. This involves making weekly visits to the schools in the area, organizing family fun nights and, of course, the youth powwow, which is the culmination of their efforts, she said. The program places a large focus on traditional Native American culture as a means to combat suicide in the reservation.
Harlem Baker, the vice chair of the advisory board for the CSS, said the event is a positive one that helps keep the kids off the streets, away from the influence of drugs and alcohol and instills a cultural identity in them.
Baker said he hopes events like the youth powwow keep kids interested in pursuing competitive dancing.
"Not just for the competition, but just for their health," Baker added. "It's a healthy way of life."
Sun Child said that the CSS is trying to become sustainable within itself so they can continue organizing the youth powwow after the three-year grant is expired.